Rebecca Sanborn Stone's Blog

The Road to Resilience

Photos: www.mansfieldheliflight.com/flood/
Irene Damage - http://www.mansfieldheliflight.com/flood/On August 28, 2011, US Route 100 leading into the mountain town of Rochester, Vermont simply ended. And so did every other road leading in and out of town. That was the day Tropical Storm Irene washed away roads and bridges and homes throughout the region, leaving 13 towns cut off from the outside world. It was hours before anyone managed to get in or out of Rochester, and even then only by ATV and on foot. It was days before most people could communicate with anyone outside of town. It was weeks before power was restored and roads were passable to anyone other than emergency crews.

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Imagining North Adams

Every year, 120,000 people make a pilgrimage to the Northwestern corner of the Berkshires in Massachusetts and head for MASS MoCA.

They park next to the concrete channels of the Hoosic River and walk into a complex of historic brick mill buildings, repurposed as a world-class museum.

They spend a few hours, or a few days, exploring the cavernous galleries, and they collectively spend millions of dollars on tickets, souvenirs and gourmet food in the museum cafés.

What they usually don’t do is spend much of that time or money a block or two away—on Main Street. And it shows. While North Adams has made many efforts, and admirable progress, to reinvent itself as a vibrant arts community, its Main Street still struggles to fill up storefronts, local businesses struggle to stay afloat, and many residents struggle to find jobs and rise above the poverty line. (Check out this 2012 piece from NPR for the full story.)

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Making Do

iceharvest2_300x168.jpgOn the last weekend in January, a small crowd of onlookers gathers at the edge of Brookfield Pond in central Vermont for what is – these days – a most unusual spectacle. An odd contraption of wooden beams and iron hardware stands on a patch of ice surrounded by rusted old saws and oversized tongs. A local historian narrates as two men move to the center of the ice and begin sawing. After a few minutes they use a strange fork to pry loose a block more than a foot thick. An ingenious lever system easily lifts this 300-pound block of ice off the water and lands it safely on the surface, frozen before it hits the ground.

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SoRo Stone Soup

SoRoStoneSoup_054_300x200.jpgYou may remember the children’s story...

Two soldiers walk into town empty-handed and in desperate need of a good dinner. The stingy villagers won’t invite them in to dine, but when the soldiers start cooking up a batch of Stone Soup, the villagers get curious and toss in a carrot here, a potato there, just to see what happens. Yadda, yadda, yadda...

In no time at all, the whole village settles in to enjoy a feast—and a community—cooked up seemingly out of nothing.

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It Takes Two to Trust

It’s no secret that the majority of Americans has lost faith in the government (never mind those who never had faith to begin with). But our elected officials rarely address this issue head on; they usually dodge the question and offer platitudes or bullet points about their own personal agendas.

The honest response from American government, according to The Onion, would be, “right back atcha.” The Onion issued a hilarious report last spring that explains why: “Majority of Government Doesn’t Trust Citizens Either.”

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What Would You Do With $90? (A Holiday Challenge)

hangglider_money_242x194.jpgHere’s $90. Do something good with it by the middle of January. Go!

That’s the challenge that all of us here at the Foundation have taken on this holiday season. Holiday giving is a tradition, but we’re putting a little twist on it this year. We typically each toss in some money for a charitable donation this time of year, the Foundation generously matches our gifts, and we choose one cause in New England and one in the Rocky Mountains that each get half.

This year we’re mixing it up with a little experiment in microphilanthropy, and I wanted to take this opportunity to get some help with my own task and issue a challenge.

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Small Towns Go High Tech

Photo: cityofmanors photostream on Flickr

I am a proud resident of a small town. I live in Bethel, Vermont, with approximately 1900 other people and about as many cows, four restaurants, two markets, one school and no stop lights. Most of my neighbors get their news in the local paper and share their views at the dump on Saturday mornings.

Still, Bethel is actually pretty progressive, as far as rural, small town technology goes. We don’t have a Twitter feed or a Facebook page, but the Town does have a basic website, kept up to date with phone numbers for the town offices and PDF files of Select Board minutes.

Still, I can’t help feeling a little tech envy when I read about places that are exploring high-tech ways to open up government, provide people with access to all sorts of municipal data and resources, and make it easier than ever for elected officials to involve and communicate with their citizens:

  • NeighborworksAmerica reported on seven new ways that social media is improving neighborhoods: from neighborsforneighbors.org, a Boston non-profit that created social networks for every neighborhood in the City, to thisweknow.org, which makes it easy to compare data between cities.
     
  • New York City just concluded its Big Apps competition, making reams of municipal data available to citizens and inviting them to create applications using it. The winners make it easier for New Yorkers to find a subway entrance, rate taxis and learn about their schools.
     
  • Cities from New Haven to San Francisco are jumping aboard SeeClickFix or using 311 lines and iPhone apps (like this one in DC), enabling citizens to quickly report issues like potholes and crime hotspots, and enabling governments to quickly take action.
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Deconstructing Diversity

In Millbridge, Maine, a local non-profit won federal funding to build housing for immigrant laborers. But local residents circled a petition and approved a moratorium on multifamily housing in order to keep immigrants out.

In Brooklyn, New York this fall, a local Hasidic community objected to safety issues and immodest clothing among cyclists on its neighborhood bike lanes. The Department of Transportation sandblasted the lanes—which guerrilla bicycle activists promptly painted back on.

And in Katy, Texas, when a local Muslim community purchased a piece of land and planned to build a mosque and school, one citizen responded by running pig races next door on Friday evenings, the holiest day of the week for Muslims (see Jon Stewart’s coverage on The Daily Show, below).

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